ADVENTURE THE 10TH: ON THE LOOSE
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For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.
Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.
For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made. This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…
Adventure the 10th: On the Loose
I didn’t see Mico again when we pulled into Grand Central around midnight. Actually, I was hoping for that, going out of my way to get lost in the crowds. There wasn’t anything left that needed to be said between us. I could write a book on that one with no imagination. She had been generous, at least with her thoughts.
After checking my grip, I departed in search of a place to stay. But everywhere was the same story: full up for the holidays.
Outside the light snow had matured into a raging blizzard. The city that never sleeps gave a fairly good imitation that its’ insomnia had been cured. The streets were a morgue. Not even the winos stirred.
I walked the snowy paths through Central Park like the only guy who had left his wallet at home, absorbing the afterglow from those old Victorian lampposts while a strange settling feeling came over me – like I had never left it all these years. I decided to appreciate New York for a change and lit a cigarette near the reservoir; a backdrop straight out’a a catalogue by Currier and Ives or something Gershwin would have rhapsodized with a clarinet solo and snare drum. Those towering penthouse rooftops glowed like a million points of megawatt stardust and somewhere in the distance a lonely ambulance siren was faintly heard. But beyond that, it was a night fit for the angels. The muggers had all gone home to drink or inject themselves to death.
I decided to check out 716 Templer Avenue. But first I needed a coffee to set me up. Bradley’s, the twenty-four hour dump on the corner that had seemed an eternal fixture of the old neighborhood when I was a boy wasn’t there anymore. Neither was the run down thrifty jeweler next door who used to gyp his clientele for thirty-percent. Not that I particularly cared, but at this point the grumble in my gut could have easily dissolved twenty karats in a glass of cocoa. With nothing else to do and no one else to do it with, I decided to cut my losses and find the apartment.
I found it, alright; a dingy five story fire trap with no working elevator and enough grime on the floors to start its own science experiment. For a while, only the echo of my wet shoes - sliding on the worn cracked rubber runners that some well-intentioned super had tact to the tile during the heady lawsuit days of the 1980s - kept me company. The grip in my hand seemed to get heavier with each floor. When I reached number three I waited for a minute to catch my breath. It took a minute.
A long narrow hall opened up on both sides; the security door, missing for some time. I could hear some lazy lightly thumping on the other side of those paper thin walls; probably a guy ready for the late night shift or a cheap date getting frisky with the furniture. Most of the overhead fixtures were burnt out, save one dusty glass shell about half way down and the faint red glow of an emergency exit, barely clinging from the ceiling at the far end.
Number Three C looked like all the rest from the outside – a panel of careworn beat up pine for a door with its white lettering spray-painted over curled chips of stale varnish. I could hear a television on inside.
I tap on the frame – lightly at first, then a bit louder to get my point across. Still, nobody came to the door.
It strikes me that I might be calling too late for the tea and tawdry set but I decide that it’s worth my effort to try again. I take the tarnished doorknob in hand. It twists and the door opens.
Dead soul, maybe.
I look around but there’s nobody to ask questions, so I go in. It’s a narrow entrance like the kind I remember as a kid – cluttered with a wall rack for coats and some gaudy rose and lattice wallpaper hidden behind pictures in frames that don’t match.
I put my grip down quietly on the wooden floor, leaving puddles where I stand and place my hand above the knob to silently close the door behind me. I’m almost finished when a flash of silver whizzes past my head with such speed that I don’t even have time to react. The breeze is so intense that for a second I think maybe whatever’s been thrown has grazed my cheek, but it hasn’t. And there, imbedded in the soft wood of the frame, cut clean through the sleeve of my wet trench is a meat cleaver pinning me to the jam. I reach for it.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I’m told in a deep whiskey voice.
I turn in place with my hand still tacked up. There she stands; a seventy-plus frump in her ten dollar bathrobe; gnarled skin as frail as parchment and with the face of a pig that’s been rooting through the swill. But she’s got the carriage of Ma Barker and enough Ginsu’s in each hand to make me coleslaw without the salad.
“Who are you?” she asks.
No point in faking my way out of this one. She looks like a gal who’s known her fair share and has been able to spot about as many fakers.
“Name’s Mars,” I tell her, “I’m a friend of Marysol’s.”
Her attitude suddenly changes to one of anxious excitement.
“Mary?! Oh well,” she says, walking over to me in her oversized bunny slippers with big broad strides, and yanking the cleaver loose, “Gee. You’ll have to forgive. I don’t get much company, see?”
“Yeah,” I admit, relieved, “I see why.”
“Thieves,” she explains, “Four times last month. Turned the place into a five finger discount. Took my microwave, Louisville Slugger and the VCR. I thought they might be coming back for the T.V.”
“You’re pretty handy with a knife,” I say.
“That comes naturally,” she explains.
Her snout spreads with pride.
“Where you staying?” she asks, taking notice of my grip.
“Your guess is as good as mind,” I say.
“Then Mary isn’t with you?”
I shake my head.
“Well, not that I expected her. Still…”
There’s more to that thought, only I’m not allowed in there.
She takes me into her living room – four dull corners of decay and muddle in need of a BFI bin - and shows me a yellowed picture of a cute young thing from the Vaudeville days, laced into her flower and feather-covered corset, standing next to a bare-chested Sandow reject in his leopard-print wooly shorts.
“That’s me,” she says, “Don’t look like it, do it?”
I can’t lie – not to myself anyway. I don’t see a trace of that tiny vixen in this overweight monstrosity standing before me. It’s as though one gorged the other in a fit of jealous hunger, with only the belch of memory to sustain a past.
“You should have seen me in twenty-nine,” she declares, taking a cheap purple scarf and tossing it proudly around her neck, “Ezmirelda and her Flying Daggers…”
She pauses a moment, her face sagging a bit as she recalls.
“…and Jeffries,” she adds, pointing to the strong man in the photograph, “Cuts a good figure doesn’t he.”
Ezmirelda shakes her head.
“Not mine. Oh, it was a good act. We topped Coney Island for six years. Marysol’s daddy.”
She offers me a chair and I’m grateful to take it. My feet feel as though I’ve walked for days. I’m offered a drink and it’s good too. The old horse pulls up her rocker so that our toes are practically touching. She fills up her tumbler for the long tale ahead. So, I settle in for another sob story.
This one is about Ez and Jeff – the cutter and the womanizer. I get the deluxe treatment tonight – a smelly old press book full of yellowed clippings and faded photographs. Ez was in love with Jeff. But Jeff had his eye on the competition – Tenya the Ballerina. So while Ez was busy doing her best to set up a home for the family in between six shows, Jeff was out buying Tenya the world with money pilfered from the act. But Ez was no fool.
“I figured it, see,” she explains, the weight of her years providing insight that probably wasn’t there to begin with, “Guys like that only want you when you’re nobody’s mama. But Mary was his and I wasn’t goin’ no place, see? Only I couldn’t figure how to stop it. You can’t just say ‘I know you’re sleeping with that whore’. He’ll leave and I’d be the evil one. But then it came to me.”
“The act! See, for the finale Jeff gets strapped onto this spinning wheel and I’m supposed to throw a bunch’a silver at him. Only that night I was aiming for keeps.”
To have Ez tell it, it was an act of martyrdom in honor of motherhood. After pitching a perfect set of blades that traced the guy in eighteen-ten stainless, she decided to let him have it with a homemade castration. He survived - just barely, but there was nothing left afterward to make any woman sweat from the waist down.
“You should’a heard him,” Ez cackles, “Callin’ for my arrest and tellin’ the cops I did it out of spite. But I was smart, see? I had a couple stiff ones in me. Claimed it on the booze. Works every time. Did then, at least. The boys in blue took my side. Only I had to give up the act.”
“Well,” she says, as though I’m dumb enough not to already know, “You can’t pull the same trick twice without going to prison. Not that Jeff could’a done more with what I left him. But I wasn’t willing to take that chance, that I might try it again for keeps. So - hung up the tights. Put away the steel. Got respectable.”
I must look bored because Ez’ decides to stop her curdled fairytale.
“Enough about me. You don’t wanna hear it. Nobody wants to. So tell me whatcha’ come down here for. How’s Mary?”
I lean forward in my chair and feel the brittle frame creak. I’m ready to jump and run just in case the old bird gets unhinged down Memory Lane and takes a header for my family jewels - especially after I’ve spilled the news.
“You’re daughter’s dead, Ez.”
She looks at me sort’a queer – like a cow whose utters have been yanked for the first time. Then suddenly, she laughs.
“Mary? Aw, go on, you fool. You can’t kill that cat. Nine lives, handsome. Nine lives.”
She’s not so drunk that she can’t tell when she’s dropped her own bomb.
“Well, don’t look so goddamn surprised, handsome,” she says, “the night’s young even if I’m not. And anyway, Mary’s pulled that one before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Faked her own death. Did it when she was just a teenager. Wanted to escape Todd….no, Terry?…Tyler? Aw, who’s gonna keep ‘em straight. Jacobs was his last name. Yeah Jacobs.”
At least she seems sure of that.
“Last man who might’a made an honest woman out’a her. She couldn’t stand that kid. But Jeff wanted somebody else to take control so we set things up. What does Mary do? On the day of her wedding the police come to say she fell from the second story open window of the bridal shop. Tripped on her veil during the final fittin’ they said. And they believed it. Hell, even I believed it. Saw the body, face down on the pavement right at the scene. Cried like a baby. The kid too. Went to pieces like a goddamn marionette.”
This sick recollection amuses Ez. She lets a laugh escape along with a few more secrets I probably shouldn’t know. Ez is quite a gal – disturbed and demented and full of neurotic self pity burgeoning on a padded room at Great Neck. She cackles like we’ve both been had and for the first time I’m starting to think I might be.
“Two months went by before I got the letter,” Ez explains, “Two months of misery. Nearly lost my head. Damn near took Jeff’s off too. Blamed the whole thing on him for trying to force Mary into something she didn’t want. Then I get this registered letter one day while Jeff’s at work and it says, ‘Dear Ma, I’m fine and living with a couple of girlfriend’s in Florida. Don’t tell daddy. Love Mar.’ and it comes with some photos too. Wanna see?”
I don’t and I think Ez realizes it too, because she suddenly grows dower.
“Maybe you’re right,” she says, getting up from her chair, “I’m tired. You must be too, Mr…uh…what’d you say your name was?”
“Smiley,” I muse, “Digbert Smiley.”
My alias doesn’t fool her. Ez rattles a ball of phlegm inside the expansive recesses of her chest cavity.
“No, you ain’t, Mr.” she exclaims, “But it’s alright if you’d rather not. I’m weary now but I’ll remember what you said in the morning.”
She pinches my cheek.
“And maybe, if you’re lucky,” she coos, “I’ll give you a call.”
She taps herself on the left temple.
“This ain’t dead yet you know. It just takes longer to warm up.”
. . .
At four in the morning New York doormen aren’t exactly receptive to uninvited callers. So, after I’ve found 21 Park Avenue West from the street, I go ‘round back to the service entrance and pick the lock. Standing inside that imposing granite lobby with its marbled statuary and peeing fountain makes me feel like a heel but I don’t really care. I need a place to crash and Park Avenue suits me fine. Besides, occasionally it feels good to go slumming.
The look I get when Mico opens her door says it all.
“Well, dear God,” she playfully says with a half grin, “The dead has arisen…you’re a mess.”
And so I am – sopping wet from head to toe with a thick fringe of half-melted snow collected across the rim of my fedora.
Mico has a drink in her hand. She’s dressed in the same clothes she wore on the train.
“Baby, it’s cold outside,” I urge.
She steps aside, but just enough to barely let me pass. Only a few blocks separate this apartment from Ez’s and yet I’ve suddenly moved to the other side of the rainbow. It’s a callous art deco palace, sparsely decorated like the tombs of ancient Pharaohs but with black marble, so shiny that I can make out my reflection even in the dim glow of fire light.
“Not bad, angel,” I say, pretending that I’ve seen better, “Where’s my room?”
“A bit presumptuous, aren’t we?” Mico replies.
She doesn’t mean a word. In fact, there isn’t one sincere thought in that vapid little brain. We stand apart, in acknowledgement of one another for a few brief minutes. But then she turns to show me the way and that’s all the encouragement I need. I drop the grip and come up from behind, sliding my icy wet hands along her warm dry shoulders. I can feel my fingers tingle. She doesn’t recoil and I know my instincts about her have been dead bang from the start.
“Buy cheap,” I say, pressing my lips against hers. She drapes like silk around my neck, “Sell high. Cut your losses when it’s over.”
“You sound as though you’ve done this before,” Mico replies in a whisper.
“Just once,” I lie.
It would make us both blush to learn how many bad girls and blue boys have come before.
“You think you’re king of the hill?” says she, as I unzip the back of her blouse.
“How about an ‘ace in the hole’?”
I feel the belt on my trench loosen between her fingers.
“I think you should know I’m not an easy mark,” she confides even as the silken thin straps of her bra ride down around her waist.
“Try,” I say.
The big finish doesn’t come for several hours afterward. By then I’ve seen all of the apartment and Mico that I want to. But I’m too tired to care or move on. We fall asleep in each other’s arms, neither content with our station or circumstance – both in search of a future that neither one wants to acknowledge has already passed by.
THE END? - not until the fat lady sings
Eddie Mars will return May 19th, 2006 in his next adventure:
Daddy's Little Girls
@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).